Viticulture, Scythe, Euphoria. Beautifully designed games in function and aesthetic. Something that Jamey Stegmaier puts into every game that his company Stonemaier Games, makes. I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Jamey about design and the process that goes into a Stonemaier game.
Ed Carter: I first wanted to ask about your history with board gaming.what was your inspiration to become a designer?
Jamey Stegmaier: I started designing games when I was pretty young- seven or eight years old. At the time, I think I just enjoyed it as a creative outlet. I returned to the hobby as a designer in 2011, at which point a major inspiration was the blooming presence of games on Kickstarter.
EC: What was the first Euro you played? Did you think, I can do this better?
JS: The first modern Euro I played was Agricola. I was in awe of it—while I’m sure there were little things I questioned, it wasn’t a matter of me thinking I could do it better. Rather, it opened my eyes to what a game could be.
EC: For those not familiar, can you describe what defines a Eurogame?
JS: I define a Euro-style game as one that features significantly more strategy than luck. Basically, players have control over the vast majority of their choices in a Euro-style game.
EC: Tell me about the inspiration for Viticulture. How did you make winemaking into such a sensational gaming experience?
JS: Viticulture was my first foray into modern game design, and I wanted to pick a theme that might appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike. As for how it turned out the way it did, playtesting is the answer—the game changed so much from the beginning to the end as I searched for the most fun, interesting elements.
EC: Did you foresee such the love players have for Viticulture?
JS: I hoped people would enjoy it, but I didn’t even know if Viticulture would successfully fund on Kickstarter, much less go on to sell 70,000+ copies.
EC: Tell me how Scythe came about. An alternate history Europe with mechs, that is innovative.
JS: An artist, Jakub Rozalski, had started building an alternate universe through illustrations back in 2014. I saw some of the images on Kotaku and was instantly drawn to them, so I reached out to Jakub to see if the tabletop rights were available. They were, and the rest is history. 🙂
EC: Would you say using Kickstarter is an effective way to fund and distribute your games?
JS: I would say that Kickstarter is one of several ways to raise funds, build community, generate buzz, improve the product, and gauge demand. It was certainly instrumental for the first half of Stonemaier Games’ existence. For the second half, we haven’t used it at all.
EC: What can we hope to see next from Stonemaier games?
JS: We’ll soon be announcing a new game for release in spring 2019, followed by the long-awaited Euphoria expansion.
EC: Charterstone, wow make your own unique game; what a concept. How did that blending of legacy come about?
JS: I’ve loved legacy games (games that feature permanence) ever since I played Risk Legacy. I wanted to try to add a Stonemaier-style twist to the genre, and village building was the most exciting option I considered.
EC: Any advice for others who want to pursue becoming a designer?
JS: Play a lot of different games, focusing on what it is about them that makes you feel good or bad. I’ve learned so much from playing a wide variety of games from other designers.
EC: Your company I think is unique in that on your website you share your knowledge and experience in kickstarter..it seems that you really want to help the industry as a whole. Would you agree with that assessment?
JS: Indeed, I like to write about crowdfunding, entrepreneurship, and behind-the-scenes stuff at Stonemaier Games. Basically, anything that might add value to other creators. I process things best by writing them out, so the writing process is informative to me too (as well as the ensuring conversations in the comments).
EC: The 12 tenets of design, quite a concept, have you heard from any other designers benefitting from them as well?
JS: I have a section on our website about 12 elements of game design that I implement in my games. I’ve heard from other designers who confuse them as the “correct” way to design a game, which isn’t the case—really, they’re just my preferences, though I do recommend that designers take them into account if they’re submitting a game to us for publication.
ED: Can you explain some of the steps of how you go from having an idea to creating a game?
JS: I usually start with a lot of pencil-and-paper brainstorming. If those ideas seem to have potential, I design a prototype in InDesign. I then play it. Many games stop at that point—I realize that they don’t have potential or I’m not excited to continue with them. But a few show potential, and at that point, I iterate, playtest, iterate, playtest, and so on until the game if fun and functional. Then I enter the blind playtesting process, which is when I send the digital files for the game to people around the world who are willing to test the game and send me feedback.
EC: With Tabletop gaming becoming more popular, what do you project for the future of the industry?
JS: For the industry as a whole, I think we’re going to see more companies publishing fewer games, focusing on the games they think have the potential to be big hits.
EC: What do you find most challenging in striking a balance between being a businessman and an artist?
JS: I’m not sure I’d call myself an artist, but as a designer, I want to present the most beautiful, evocative game possible. As a businessman, I need to be very careful about costs, prices, and margins so that the beautiful games we create don’t bankrupt us.
If you’d like to learn more about Stonemaier Games, please visit stonemaiergames.com.